July 31, 2019

The music blogging world has lost a giant -- RIP Tawfiq

A year or so I was at a concert performed by an American folk guitarist. After the show we happened to be talking about various types of music and I mentioned Indian Classical Music. He suddenly brightened up and mentioned a few Dhrupad musicians whose recordings had dramatically changed the way he approached performing on his chosen instrument, the guitar. He looked at me and solemnly, slowly told me, "There is a blog. It's my favorite blog in the world. You have to check it out. It's called 'Oriental Traditional Music.'"

I certainly wasn't expecting that! I smiled and told him I knew the blogger. 

It wasn't true of course, in the strictest sense of knowing someone like a close friend. But I definitely felt like I knew him. 

Axel, or "Tawfiq" as he styled himself on the internet, and I had exchanged several dozen emails over the years, sold and bought from each other various LPs and CDs, and in general maintained a healthy banter in the comments sections of our respective blogs. He had a strong presence selling music on Discogs as seller "Tawfiq49" -- any time i have ever mentioned that an LP was purchased from the old stock of a distributer, I was slyly giving credit to "Tawfiq" as the person who had sold me the LP. 

We often encountered difficulties when online web hosting sites started to disappear or become difficult to deal with, when the EU started making rules about online privacy which drove many people to abandon the blogs, and even sometimes with Google and their difficult-to-figure-out rule changes. On one of his posts he mentions his thanks to me for helping him sort out a difficulty with comments no longer being able to be approved. "That's just what blogging friends do for each other," was my thought at the time...

I was sad a few years back when he stopped distributing his email list of CDs for sale, even telling one person that there weren't any interesting Indian music CDs being produced any more. But I knew that indeed many manufacturers of CDs such as Saregama are no longer releasing physical CDs anymore. It's all digital downloads or artist-released CDs these days. 

There would be times when he was quiet and not post very much, but then again that's true of any blogger. At one point he mentioned that a year prior his wife had been sick and had died. Not a peep of a mention on his blog -- I think maybe he took it as a point of pride that he wasn't going to solicit any condolences, but then again I don't have any proof of that. Just a hunch. 

"Tawfiq" at all times maintained a quiet dignity in the face of both praise and blame, compliments and complaints. I myself have measured very low at times in the "weathering the internet storm" department. 

"Tawfiq" had spent a long time learning about all types of Asian and Central Asian Classical Music -- from Uzbekistan to Azjerbajan, from Pakistan to India, from Iran to Iraq. He wore his expertise lightly and was gentle when correcting me about a factual matter and and mostly silent when disagreeing with me about the relative qualities of various musicians.

A little while ago I noticed something odd. I had commented on several of his last few posts of his blog and did not receive a reply, nor were the comments published. I figured he might be busy. But then as the days went on I started fearing for the worst. I then methodically went through every single post of his blog to download the audio files, making sure that if I had accidentally missed a post then I would be sure to have that music in the event of the blog going off line.

I had a bad feeling. But there was no way to contact him other than through email and the comment section of his blog.

When I heard the news about his death, in a comment in the comments of section of the previous post on this blog, I can't say I was shocked. It had been over three months since I had had any contact with him, bit still felt immensely sad when the worst was confirmed.

The "Tawfiq" whom I interacted with was kind, decent, modest, and he cared very deeply about the power of music. His blog stands as a monument to one man's passion for music. Had the internet been developed 10 years sooner, we would have had 10 more years of his musical sharing. Those ten years would have been filled with a masterful curation of the gems from his music collection, and we would all have been the better for it. There would have been so many more treasures from to discover and enjoy. But instead of focusing on what could have been, I will instead feel tremendous gratitude to "Tawfiq" for doing such a masterful job of introducing me to so many artists and genres of music. 

I don't know anything about his extended family and what will become of his collection. I hope he planned ahead and it will be given to a library or an individual who cares about the music and preserving it. His blog will remain online as long as the rules for blogspot remain the same and no specific response is required in order that it continue to be displayed for visitors. 

The files, however, are a different story. They are hosted on Dropbox and Adrive - both of these require a payment for the account to stay active. At some point the links won't work anymore. I strongly encourage people reading this post to go there and do as I did -- methodically go through every post (I started at the end and kept going back into the past until the first post) and download what you can. I doubt very much that I will ever have the opportunity to post as much music as he did (unless I create some kind of mirror-site blog -- I have even less time for that).

The traditional Buddhist phrase to say when a death occurs is, in the Pali language, "Anicca Vata Sankhara," -- which basically means that all the things we think we are -- our body, our opinions, our thoughts, our perceptions -- all of it is impermanent. It's a bit reminiscent of something said at the Christian funerals of my extended family -- "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." which is based on Genesis 3:19 if you are in the mood to look it up. 

I hope that you, dear reader, will -- in some small or large way -- carry on this delicate work that needs to be done. We are preserving musical culture against a growing tide of hostility and (worst of all) indifference. There are people who believe that sharing otherwise commercially unavailable music online is "piracy" -- I call it "distributed backup."

Goodbye "Tawfiq" -- your memory is alive in me and countless others whose lives you have touched. Thank you.

To my readers: please use the comment section of this post to let us know any thoughts you may have on "Tawfiq" and his blog. I know there are real-life friends of his in Germany and I especially encourage such people to get in touch with me in the hopes that somehow his blog can be archived properly (with the permission of his family) with all the links working.